Category Archives: quotes

Hope of the World

bill hybelsI recently came across these notes I made of Bill Hybels’ talk at the 2013 HTB leadership conference. Some useful thoughts on vision and team.


The local church is the hope of the world. There is nothing like the local church when it is working right. The local church will only work well if it is fed well and led well. Can’t talk about leadership without vision

Vision casting – often we start by describing the place we want to go. This may not be the most useful way to bring people with you, however well you cast the vision of that place. People like it ‘here’. They know ‘here’. It’s comfortable ‘here’. You might need to start showing them exactly what is wrong with the place you are currently. People need to see the problems. And they need to realise that we cannot stay in the place we are.  Then a solution can be received. Start by building an airtight case of all the reasons why you can’t stay here.

Vision is most under threat in the middle of the project. Initial enthusiasm has died down and the end is not yet in sight. Need to remind people how far you have come in order to keep going. This also might be the point at which leaders are most vulnerable.
How do we attract, develop and maintain a great team. Leaders need people to share the vision with, and to include others in. Looking for people with the five Cs: Character, Competence, Chemistry (someone you get on with), someone who fits in the Culture of the church, and someone with Calling from God. You will regret it if you compromise on these.
Need to take the time to define the culture of the church. What’s unique about it? At Willow Creek (Bill’s Church), they want people who are incessant tinkerers, who will tweak and tinker in order to improve things.
Figure out who are the most important people in the team. If calamity struck, who would you not want to lose. Who could you cope with losing. Why are they the people you’d not mind losing?  What needs to change? What has changed to bring them to that place (assuming they were important to you when they were hired)? Sometimes you realise though this that you are under using people. Make sure people are not under challenged.
We lead people but the toughest person to lead is yourself. It is our own job to keep ourselves refreshed and healthy in our leadership.  We need to find ways to replenish ourselves. Need to find the rhythms to help ourselves remain full. If we’re a pastor the best thing we bring is ourselves filled with the Holy Spirit, where we have life, patience, and humour.

Be filled with the Spirit.

John Stott from his Commentary on Ephesians.

When Paul says to us, ‘Be filled with the Spirit’, he uses a present imperative implying that we are to go on being filled. For the fulness of the Spirit is not a once-for-all experience which we can never lose, but a privilege to be renewed continuously by continuous believing and obedient appropriation….

To the defeated Paul would say, ‘Be filled with the Spirit, and he will give you a new love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, meekness and self-control.’ To the complacent Paul would say ‘go on being filled with the Spirit. Thank God for what he has given you thus far. But do not say you have arrived. For there is more, much more, yet to come.’



Green MambaFrom one of Nicky Gumbel’s talks:

If it’s the Holy Spirit pointing out something that’s wrong in our lives, he will be very specific. We’ll know what it is, and we can repent about it and deal with it.

And after that we’ll feel at peace.

If it’s condemnation, it’s a nebulous feeling of guilt we don’t know quite what we’re feeling—that’s the accuser. Because St. Paul writes: There is no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.



communionA wonderful (lengthy) quote from Unapologetic on the meaning and importance of communion (probably my last quote from the book). And as it’s quite difficult to quote Francis Spufford in small chunks, here’s the lot:

“Every Sunday morning, in all the church’s human niches, from downtown Isfahan to downtown Manhattan, in places of great wealth and comfort and in cities under bombardment, on every continent including Antarctica and once, I believe, on the moon, we hold again a stylised version of the original Passover meal in Jerusalem. There is bread, there is wine. We bless them using one of the Passover prayers. We break the bread, we pour the wine into a cup. We repeat Jesus’ words from the story. This is my body. This is my blood. And then for us the bread, made unmysteriously from wheat, and the wine, made unmysteriously from grapes, are different. There has been a change in their meaning. For some of us, the material bread and material wine have altered (on a tiny domestic scale, with crumbs and dregs and washing-up) in the same way that the material world was altered by having its creator within it. Right there on the table, the set of the world once more contains itself as a member; once more, a peculiar knot has been tied in the fabric of existence. For others of us, the change of meaning is made by the material world aligning itself to form a sign of what began happening once in Jerusalem long ago, and (the sign reminds us) is still happening now. Either way, the change puts the same strange burden on our imagination and our understanding when we do what we do next, and eat the bread and drink the wine. We’re eating God. We’re eating Jesus. The body [of Christ – the people of the Church] that wants to the a body is eating the body it wants to be. The pun multiplies. ‘O taste and see’, the choir may be singing, if it’s the altar of a cathedral we’re filing towards to take our bite and our swallow of the meal. The tasting is literal: tongues, teeth, gullet and intestines are all involved. The God of everything is demonstrating again his gross indifference to good taste in the other, polite, little-finger-extended sense. Because it’s inescapable: this is an act of sacred cannibalism, in symbolic form. The Romans, used to temples where the literal blood of animals flowed, passed round rumours of the vile stuff Christians got up to on a Sunday, and perhaps it’s too easy for us now to soothe away into familiarity the language we use. Perhaps there ought to be a hint of repulsion, of taboos overridden, when we sup the red stuff in the chalice, to keep us reminded of where our sign is pointing: which is towards Skull Hill, and the human body on the cross there. We aren’t just eating Jesus. We’re eating his death. We eat and we drink because we desire monstrosity’s end, but the sacrament carries us into the monstrous, through the monstrous, to get us there, just as the story we tell only arrives at hope by way of tragedy. The meanings of the bread and the wine line up along a bloody corridor, as barbarous as the barbarous world God is working on, and at the end of the corridor, once we have accepted the strange and frightening gift we are being given, there is forgiveness, We eat the bread, we drink the wine, to be joined to the act by which forgiveness came. We eat the end of cruelty and shame. We eat amnesty for whatever the particular load of the HPtFtU* was that we brought to the dinner table. We eat the rejoicing that this one time, in spite of all sorrow, the world’s weight was flipped over and turned to joy. We eat grace.

And that’s what the church is for. Forget about saints, popes, bishops, monks, nuns, processions, statues, music, art, architecture, vicarage tea parties, telethons, snake-handling, speaking in tongues, special hats. All of that stuff (OK, I’m not sure about the snake-handling) can be functional in its time and its place, can do things sometimes to inch forward the work of love, but it’s all secondary, it’s all flummery, it’s all essentially decorative compared to this. We eat the bread. We drink the wine. We feel ourselves forgiven. And, feeling that, we turn from the table to try to love the world, and ourselves, and each other.”

* HPtFtU – The Human Propensity to F*ck things Up is Spufford’s way of describing the brokenness of the world, sin.

Square brackets are mine, round brackets are Spufford’s own footnotes.


suffering barbed wire crown of thorns

Another quote from Francis Spufford’s book, Unapologetic.

How do Christians deal with suffering? There are many theories, and arguments about how a Holy God can allow it. After speaking them out and detailing their deficiencies, Spufford cuts past the intellectual theories and comes at it via the practical lens of experience.

It is quite hard to quote Spufford in small chunks, but this is worth quoting, so I’ve written it all out.

How do we resolve the contradiction between cruel world and loving God? The short answer is that we don’t. We don’t even try to, mostly. Most Christian believers don’t spend their time and their emotional energy stuck at this point of contradiction. For most of us, worrying about it turns out to have been a phase in the early history of our belief. The questions of suffering process to be one of these questions which is replaced by other questions, rather than being answered. We move on from it, without abolishing the mystery, or seeing clear conceptual ground under out feet… We take the cruelties of the world as a given, as the known and familiar data of experience, and instead of anguishing about why the world is as it is, we look for comfort in coping with it as it is. We don’t ask for a creator who can explain Himself. We ask for a friend in time of grief, a true judge in time of despair. If your child is dying, there is no reason that can ease your sorrow. Even if, impossibly, some true and sufficient explanation could be given to you, it wouldn’t help, any more than the inadequate and defective explanations help you, whether they are picture book simple or inscrutably contorted. The only comfort that can do anything – and probably the most it can do is to help you to endure, or if you cannot endure to fail and fold without wholly hating yourself – is the comfort of feeling yourself loved. Given the cruel world, its’ the love song we need, to help us bear what we must; and , if we can, to go on loving. (p104-5)


We say; all is not well with the world, but at least God is here in it, with us. We don’t have an argument that solves the problem of the cruel world, but we have a story. (p107)


More on Beauty

BASTIEN-LEPAGE Joan of ArcOne thing I ask from the Lord,
this only do I seek:
that I may dwell in the house of the Lord
all the days of my life,
to gaze on the beauty of the Lord
and to seek him in his temple.

For in the day of trouble
he will keep me safe in his dwelling;
he will hide me in the shelter of his sacred tent
and set me high upon a rock. (Ps 27:4-5)

This is a psalm written by someone who is facing struggles. The Psalm begins with an assertion that God is the one to be trusted despite ‘the wicked advancing’ and ‘an army besieging’. (v2-3)

What comes next is interesting. The Psalmist expresses a desire to ‘dwell in the house of the LORD’ and to ‘’gaze on the beauty of the LORD’. What doe sit mean to gaze on his beauty?

One commentator interprets this as ‘looking upon his holiness’. God’s holiness is his character, justice, mercy, purity, light. But even this is ambiguous. How is one to ‘gaze upon his beauty’?

An important detail is the location in which the psalmist is intending to do this. He wants to ‘dwell in the house of the LORD’ and to ‘gaze upon his beauty and to seek him in his temple’. Here the beauty comes together with the temple in Jerusalem.

We must remember here that the temple wasn’t just a big synagogue to the Jews, it was the House of the LORD, the most holy place where he was, where his presence was said to be most there as it was the resting place of the Ark of the Covenant. All Jews were expected at the temple, not every week (as weekly worship took place in families and local synagogues, where the scrolls of scripture were kept and read), but at least a major festivals. This would be when their knowledge of God came together with the rituals of cleansing and sacrifice performed in the presence of God. In short, the temple was their location of worship.

How does the temple relate to our places of worship today? We no longer confine God’s presence to a specific location, however, our churches echo the combined roles that the synagogue and temple served in Old Testament days. They are places where the reading of scripture occurs. But we also perform the remembrance rituals of the eucharist, which draw on and bring to completion the sacrificial rituals of the OT temple.

To clarify, in order to ‘dwell in the house of the LORD’ and ‘gaze upon his beauty’, I do not mean we have to sit in church buildings all day. But the act of dwelling and gazing is where the head and the heart, the remembrance and ritual, the word and the Spirit come together.

CS Lewis called this ‘the appetite for God’, and perhaps this links to the beauty and curiosity connection I was thinking about last week. To gaze upon his beauty is to continue to seek him in his word, in the sacraments, in whatever style of worship suits you. But this is done for the artistic beauty of the ritual, words or music, but to get beyond to the character of God himself. In Reflections on the Psalms, Lewis writes:

I have rather – thought the expression may seem harsh to some – call this the ‘appetite for God’ than the ‘love of God’. The ‘love of God’ too easily suggests the works ‘spiritual’ in all those negative or restrictive senses which it has unhappily acquired… [The appetite for God] has all the cheerful spontaneity of a natural, even a spherical desire. It is gay and jocund. They are glad and rejoice (Ps 9:2). Their fingers itch for the harp (43:4), for the lute and the harp – wake up, lute and harp! (57:9); lets and a song, bring the tambourine, bring the “merry harp with the lute” we’re going to sing merrily and make a cheerful noise (81:1-2). Noise, you may well say. Mere noise is not enough. Let everyone, even the benighted gentiles clap their hands (47:1)

Gazing on the beauty of God leads to worship. And the beauty is that we can be ourselves in this, not constrained by the expectations of the day (I’m thinking particularly of British decorum). Even King David was criticised by his wife for dancing in worship, and he is considered one of the closest to God who ever lived.